The Frontstretch: Gateway Disappearance A Sign Of The NASCAR Times by Kurt Smith -- Friday October 22, 2010

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Gateway Disappearance A Sign Of The NASCAR Times

Kurt Smith · Friday October 22, 2010

 

This coming Saturday night’s Nationwide Series race at Gateway International Raceway will probably be the last. It’s good to see that the potential sale of the track has some folks there optimistic, but honestly, when the asking price from Dover Motorsports is suspected to be just $1 million, it seems more probable that the track may be sold to a land developer and turned into a mall.

The reason for the loss of Gateway from the Nationwide Series schedule, despite the protests from drivers and some fans, is simple economics. They aren’t drawing squat. If Gateway had been holding Cup races on the same weekends when the Nationwide circus came to town, things might have been different. But as much as Cup series attendance is sinking, it’s far worse for the Nationwide Series. At one point, after a power failure forced Nationwide and Craftsman Truck series races to be held during the day, the attendance was so dismal that any kind of argument to keep racing there would have been difficult.

With an at-track audience dwindling and never really showing any potential in the first place, the track must now compete with one on the other side of the state, a venue in Kansas which has just been handed another Cup race. Despite the fact that Gateway could tout that people can see Cup drivers much more cheaply on their track, this was probably a factor in the decision to not request events held there.

The green flag will fly for the last time at Gateway International Raceway in St. Louis this weekend as another unique Nationwide Series venue finds the series no longer viable to keep it afloat.

It’s truly a shame, because Gateway is a unique venue that puts on a decent show much of the time. Well, maybe not quite unique… it is similar in layout to Darlington, just without the gritty tire-eating surface and wacky banking that gives crew chiefs fits. But it is still a sort of driver’s track, requiring concentration and sometimes a little shoving, as Brad and Carl demonstrated earlier this year.

One of the disappearing Gateway races will be headed to Iowa Speedway, while the other race as far as I can tell is not going to be replaced in a 34-race 2011 schedule. The schedule probably needs to be shorter in times like these, and Iowa Speedway is a fantastic venue (ironically designed by Rusty Wallace, who hails from the St. Louis area where Gateway is located). So in the grand scheme of things, as far as quality of venues and racing go, it isn’t a total loss. Gateway to Iowa isn’t even a net loss. Ideally a Gateway fan would like to see the place at least host one event on the schedule, so at least it is of some comfort that isn’t being replaced by Michigan or Kansas.

For whatever reason, NASCAR never gave Cup races to Gateway. The lack of a Cup event makes for challenging conditions for a big-time racing venue; when the economy goes into a downturn, it’s nearly impossible. StlToday.com reported that since Dover Motorsports had taken over the track, it lost money with each event.

The Nationwide Series has taken a beating to the point of almost not being viable. Like the Cup series, there are a multitude of reasons for this problem. You could argue that people don’t see it as a separate development series anymore. Given that Justin Allgaier may not be racing on television next season, there is probably some truth to that.

More likely the Nationwide Series has suffered from the decline that the Cup Series itself has taken. It’s fair to say that NASCAR alienated a large part of their fan base. That hardcore fan base would likely be much more interested in the sport’s possible up-and-coming stars than someone looking for something during halftime would. Some people might be interested in seeing Carl Edwards or Kyle Busch race anywhere, but casual fans aren’t going to watch two races a weekend for long.

What’s disturbing about the trend is that Gateway is a unique, colorful track that is now no longer viable as a NASCAR venue. When things were going well for NASCAR, it moved the Cup races out of Rockingham and North Wilkesboro, and removed one race from Darlington. At the Cup level at least, as the stock in the sport declines and certain tracks no longer draw, we haven’t seen either track come back to the schedule – only a move from speedways to speedways.

If the sport continues to decline, what is next? If Dover Motorsports keeps having financial struggles, will they sell Dover to Bruton Smith, which would seemingly surrender the track’s dates to Vegas or another SMI speedway? What about Martinsville? Every single time the new schedule is in the works, the paper clip is always said to be in danger. We’ve lost Milwaukee and now Gateway on the Nationwide schedule, but Texas, Vegas, Chicago, and Michigan appear to be safe.

It’s understandable why Gateway is forfeiting its races, but it is still unfortunate, and it speaks to a larger issue. With NASCAR losing revenue, the Nationwide Series seems like it’s taking the biggest hit. And tracks that struggle in the best of times can’t work with that, no matter how exciting the racing may be on television.

Here’s hoping some more Iowas get built.

Contact Kurt Smith

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Craig
10/22/2010 10:08 AM
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If NASCAR cared about its traditional fans they could use this as an opportunity. Rockingham wants to host Nationwide or Trucks, they just need money for track upgrades (SAFER Barriers). Bruton still owns part of N. Wilkesboro, I’m sure it wouldn’t take much to get that place ready to host Nationwide or Trucks. A small step like that would send a positive message to Southern fans and pre-boom NASCAR fans.

Jacob
10/22/2010 11:07 AM
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All true, Kurt.

Craig, we both know that na$car doesn’t give a damn about the fans. We both also know that the fans are rapidly coming to not give a damn about na$car. I love both Rockingham and North Wilkesboro. I wish neither of them had lost their place. Rockingham could probably be updated for a few million dollars. I’m not so sure about North Wilkesboro. It has been vacant for a long time, and would need all the updates that the Rock needs, as well as repairs just from neglect.
But it’s all a moot point. brian france doesn’t have any use for the people that built his family’s empire (you, me, and the millions of other fans). Everytime I think about it, I just can’t help being reminded of the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

phil h
10/22/2010 12:36 PM
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its the sweet revenge of North Wilkesboro and Rockingham! Nascar deemed them obsolete and no longer viable for their sport.

Could it be the fans have turned the tables and found Nascar obsolete? I sure hope not,cause racing is the greatest sport!

But as the old saying goes…What goes around,comes around!

MATT
10/22/2010 02:41 PM
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Am I recalling correctly that there were 14 cautions for 81 laps (in a 240 lap event that dragged on almost four hours and wiped out half the field) when the track surface fell apart at Gateway during its inagural event?

If I’d spent my hard earned money to see that farce I’d never have gone back. Remember what mom taught us, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression?”

Jacob
10/22/2010 05:06 PM
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MATT, now that you mention that, it does set off alarm bells in my head as accurate. Good point, although I am sure that has nothing to do with the ADD crowd’s lack of ticket purchases.

Tom Dalfonzo
10/22/2010 07:56 PM
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This is just wrong. Race tracks need to stop using the economy as an excuse to stop hosting races. First Memphis, then Milwaukee, and now Gateway.

Gateway deserves a Cup race and they have deserved one for the longest time. Doesn’t NASCAR know that a Cup race at Gateway will put NASCAR in the St. Louis market and crowd? I guess not.

There is no reason why Gateway should be closing down. Bruton Smith and SMI need to purchase Gateway. With a little luck and a lot of money spent, the Cup circuit will blow through St. Louis. What should be done now is to knock the seating up to 85,000 and increase the banking to about 30 degrees in the turns. You don’t want this and Darlington to be identical twins.

The Gateway to the West, is now The Gateway to the Best, race track in the world!!!

wcfan
10/22/2010 10:35 PM
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Please remember that Dover parent group bought/leased the Nashville Fairgrounds and then built the “superspeedway” and moved the Races so they are also receiving a little payback themselves. I do hate to see 2 unique short tracks close. But the Fairgrounds was one of the MOST HISTORIC tracks in the country, and has struggled every since the Busch and Truck races were moved. And that track will probably never reopen. Damn Karma’s a Bitch.

JOE
10/23/2010 10:17 AM
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Someone said N wilksboro has been vacant for a long time…..NEWS FLASH..real race fans know that N. Wilksboro has reopned and has held severial Late Model races this year and they have been great races I have been to two of them and both were very good. Bill Elliots son Chase won a race there this year. True they don’t have safer barriers there, but it would be great if the nationwide cars could run there in the future!

Contact Kurt Smith